The IHR Blog |

Research


Reflections and Resolutions of an Independent Scholar

by

kimmcurranThis post by Kimm Curran originally appeared on the History Lab Plus blog (http://historylabplus.wordpress.com/).

‘Tis the season for reflecting on where our path has led us and which map to choose for the future. For many of us this allows us to think about where we want to be but also the choices we have made to get to where we are now. One decision that I made in 2013 was declare myself as an independent scholar as the distance between my PhD viva and 2013 no longer gave me much kudos as ‘early career’, especially when it came to funding bodies and post-doctoral positions. Independent scholar status seemed an identity shrouded in mystery and I was determined to unveil its secrets over the course of the year.

An independent scholar is defined as ‘ anyone who conducts scholarly research outside universities and traditional academia’ and a fitting commentary on this can be found on ‘How to be an Independent Scholar‘. The definition suits me and the freedom to research and publish when I can, mentoring younger scholars and dedicating time to advocacy work for early career and independent researchers certainly has its benefits.

Since I finished my PhD, the choices made and path chosen have made a difference to where I am at today with my research and my career (or lack thereof) in academia. I have a family, I have a full-time job and commitments to my discipline that include being part of research networks and setting up research networks. I am also Chair of a high-profile support network for early career and independent scholars. I do not have an academic post. Does this give me much time for my own research, finishing the manuscript, finishing articles or teaching? Not really. There are many out there in the same position who have made the choice between taking a job to pay the bills or surviving on a pittance with a short-term contract. We may also have children or are carers and have less mobility (both geographically and economically) than before. Does it bother me that I cannot dedicate more time to research and/or the development of my new research project? Sure. Sometimes it feels like the good ol’ days of the PhD and the guilt that came from taking any time off from researching.

Is this the downside of being and independent scholar? Possibly. However, the guilt comes from my own issue of feeling like a failure to those who mentored me (supervisors) and supported my research. From speaking to other colleagues who have made decisions not to go into academic positions (or are still struggling to find one), the failure factor weighs heavy on their mind. I am constantly reminded that the measure of success after the PhD is the coveted academic position. What about dedication to the discipline, teaching, supporting colleagues, advocacy and being part of the wider developments in your field and encouraging networks (research and otherwise)? For those who come to events sponsored by History Lab Plus, these issues always come up and there is no right or wrong answer to this. But it is something to keep in mind.

Something else to bear in mind: there are more of us out there searching for academic positions in history and related disciplines than ever before and what may have been a ‘best seller’ on the c.v. and would have gotten you in the door for an interview, may not be the same as it was 5 or even 3 years ago. The REF, grant capture, Open Access, impact and engagement and social media are making jobs even more competitive – if they were not already. For many of us, knowing the ‘buzz’ words and keeping apace can be daunting if there is no one to explain these to you.

I have also seen the landscape of academia change and have been at the mercy of those changes. I have watched as friends, colleagues and acquaintances moved into academia successfully – celebrating their successes – whilst others still struggle to find their way in an ever-changing world – sharing in their defeat and sense of frustration. Some have called their appointments ‘pure luck’ or being at the right place at the right time, for those still searching, believing that lady luck may shine in your favour can only last for so long. The best thing you can do to keep up is to stay in touch with mentors and friends inside the academy, come to an event by History Lab Plus, join a society, join a network – support network, research or teaching – and lastly, get your on-line profile up to scratch (yes, for those out there who have yet to venture into this land, give it a try, you will be surprised at the outcome). All of these things make a difference and you will feel the benefit. Dedicate time to networking, connecting and updating your on-line profile part of your resolution this year, they are mine.

Having to re-invent or re-think where your research fits within departments or trends is not un-common for early career or independent scholars. I ask myself questions all the time: Am I a social historian, gender historian or a historian at all? Where do I fit in my discipline? I often wonder if I am doubly damned as my research covers the ‘long middle ages’ (1100-1600) where many (but not all) medievalists tend to cover niche periods or subjects. I still do not know the answer – I just work on ‘nuns’. But these questions are important and allow me to think more widely about the discipline and how my research can make a difference. Make another resolution this year to keep asking questions about your research and where it may ‘fit’. Get out there and engage with your subject with other people – outside your time period – or give a paper a local history society, contact a museum, archive or heritage organisation. I have learned more from those who work in different time periods, disciplines and from public organisations then I could have imagined.

I am sure this all sounds rather easy in the grand scheme of things but I confess, there have been low points and I have lost the plot many times over the years out of frustration with academia and the pressures put on scholars to succeed. I have wondered if I can continue to go on with my research, developing networks and doing advocacy work after receiving one too many rejection letters or the bog standard rejection email. (Yep, got two last week). How to get out of the – low self-esteem, kicked in the teeth, exhausted because you spent all those extra hours putting the application together – deep, dark hole? Find a friend, and go somewhere that allows you to rejuvenate yourself – I go to Leeds IMC. After a week spent with friends and medieval scholars, I always come back more positive about my academic profile than ever before, confident in my research capabilities and have made a few more friends and contacts along the way.

So for 2014, I encourage you to make resolutions that are attainable: dedicate time to networking, connecting and updating your online profile; ask questions and engage with your discipline and beyond; go to the place that makes you feel your best. After reading the blog piece by Melodee Beals, I am also hopeful about putting strategies in place to dedicate time to research whilst balancing all my other commitments. Another New Years resolution? Definitely.

British pharmaceutical trade during the long eighteenth century

by

Dorner_Image 1This post has been kindly written for us by Zack Dorner, a Junior Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research.

I’m Zack Dorner, a fourth year PhD candidate in the History Department at Brown University in the United States. Through the IHR’s Junior Fellowship Program I am living in London for the 2013-14 academic year to pursue my dissertation project.

My dissertation examines the British pharmaceutical trade during the long eighteenth century across Asia, Europe, and North America. Motivating this project are unresolved historical questions about the co-evolution of capitalism, global empire, and science in the eighteenth century. Through examining the business transactions of individuals and firms scattered around the British empire, I am trying to reconstruct the infrastructure through which capital, goods, information, and people traveled across long distances. In particular, my work focuses on the pharmaceutical trade, which allows me to discuss how the intersection of scientific and commercial practices contributed to a larger story of British economic and imperial expansion in an incipient age of global capitalism.

In tracing a global trade, my research thus far has taken me to a range of archives in search of documents such as correspondence, insurance policies, ledgers, shipping receipts, and wills that reveal both the economics of business transactions and the interpersonal negotiations that facilitated them. My research began in New England at a series of historical societies in Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island. From these local repositories I shifted to research at the giant British Library and Wellcome Library in London. I have also been spending time at the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, a building in a narrow street off Blackfriars rebuilt in 1672 after the Great Fire of London. For a short respite from the London rain, I travelled to Barbados in January to visit the Barbados Department of Archives and follow some leads of individuals purchasing pharmaceutical products from the firms I examined in London archives. Finally, in contrast to the state and private records I have read thus far, I am currently exploring the corporate archives of GlaxoSmithKline, whose eighteenth-century predecessors were active in the British imperial trade.

A closer look at the career of Robert Wigram (1744-1830) hints at some of the larger themes my dissertation engages. Wigram’s first career was as a surgeon, in which he regularly sailed to India and China as a ship’s surgeon for the East India Company in the 1760s. These voyages exposed Wigram to the growing drug trade as many of the products that travelled between Asia and London did so through the private dealings of EIC employees. In 1772 Wigram retired from surgery and reinvented himself as a successful merchant and broker, likely applying what he learned aboard ship. Wigram became a major importer of drugs into England and owned majority shares of several vessels trading to Bengal, Madras, and Bombay. And in 1800 he wrote to an EIC official to argue that high British duties on Asian drugs encouraged competition from Danish, Swedish, and Dutch merchants, limited British merchant stocks, and stunted the British economy. Of course Wigram was hardly the first to consider the political-economic impact of the drug trade; other cases abound in the archives.

Even from this single case it is clear that the pharmaceutical trade was both a public and a private project. State-imposed economic policy influenced the shape of the trade carried out by publicly funded joint-stock companies and private traders. And British political-economic calculations, as evidenced by Wigram’s accusation, often altered the balance of the pharmaceutical trade. Already in 1769 a group of London druggists and drug merchants petitioned to reduce the duty, rate, and drawback on drugs imported into England. The drug and pharmaceutical trade and its participants linked the Indian and Atlantic Ocean trading circuits as London firms exported pharmaceuticals to plantations in Antigua, Barbados, and Jamaica; and provided an influx of capital into provisioning, cotton, and sugar voyages. As I continue to follow the capital, goods, and merchants around the British imperial world of the eighteenth century I increasingly see the informal interactions that made possible the institutional expansion of trade in this period.

Announcing BUDDAH – Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities

by

buddah-scaled-cropped-littleWe are delighted to have been awarded AHRC funding for a new research project, ‘Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities‘. BUDDAH aims to transform the way in which researchers in the arts and humanities engage with the archived web, focusing on data derived from the UK web domain crawl for the period 1996-2013. Web archives are an increasingly important resource for arts and humanities researchers, yet we have neither the expertise nor the tools to use them effectively. Both the data itself, totalling approximately 65 terabytes and constituting many billions of words, and the process of collection are poorly understood, and it is possible only to draw the broadest of conclusions from current analytical analysis.

A key objective of the project will be to develop a theoretical and methodological framework within which to study this data, which will be applicable to the much larger on-going UK domain crawl, as well as in other national contexts. Researchers will work with developers at the British Library to co-produce tools which will support their requirements, testing different methods and approaches. In addition, a major study of the history of UK web space from 1996 to 2013 will be complemented by a series of small research projects from a range of disciplines, for example contemporary history, literature, gender studies and material culture.

The project, one of 21 to be funded as part of the AHRC’s Big Data Projects call, is a collaboration between the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, the British Library, the Oxford Internet Institute and Aarhus University.

Digging into Linked Parliamentary Data

by

Parliamentary papersWe were delighted to hear on 15 January that the IHR, along with the universities of Amsterdam and Toronto, King’s College London and the History of Parliament Trust, has been awarded funding by the international Digging into Data Challenge 2013. ‘Digging into Linked Parliamentary Data’ is one of fourteen projects which, over the next two years, will investigate how computational techniques can be applied to ‘big data’  in the humanities and social sciences.

Parliamentary proceedings reflect our history from centuries ago to the present day. They exist in a common format that has survived the test of time, and reflect any event of significance (through times of war and peace, of economic crisis and prosperity). With carefully curated proceedings becoming available in digital form in many countries, new research opportunities arise to analyse this data, on an unprecedented longitudinal scale, and across different nations, cultures and systems of political representation.

Focusing on the UK, Canada and The Netherlands, this project will deliver a common format for encoding parliamentary proceedings (with an initial focus on 1800–yesterday); a joint dataset covering all three jurisdictions; a workbench with a range of tools for the comparative, longitudinal study of parliamentary data; and substantive case studies focusing on migration, left/right ideological polarization and parliamentary language. We hope that comparative analysis of this kind, and the tools to support it, will inform a new approach to the history of parliamentary communication and discourse, and address new research questions.

A project website will be up and running in the next few weeks, so watch this space for more information!

St Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster: Visual and Political Culture, 1292-1941

by

The University of York and Institute of Historical Research are delighted to announce a major new collaboration with the Palace of Westminster.  The AHRC-funded project ‘St Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster: Visual and Political Culture, 1292-1941′ (£976,296)brings together a team of historians and art historians to research a building which was successively a royal chapel, the House of Commons, and the ceremonial entry-way to Parliament.

Principal Investigator Dr John Cooper explains: ‘This is an unprecedented opportunity to explore the significance of a space which has been at the heart of public life since the thirteenth century.  The welcome from the modern-day Palace of Westminster has been wonderful.’  The research will feed into a digital reconstruction of St Stephen’s in its successive roles, modelled by the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture.  Co-Investigators are Dr Tim Ayers and Professor Miles Taylor; the project runs for three years from October 2013.

Blogging For Historians

by

When you read a blog post about History what are you looking for?  If you own a blog do you write posts about historical topics?  Why do you do this?  What do you get out of it?  These are all things that are of interest for the Blogging for Historians project. 

The project examines the purpose behind blogging either as an individual or as an intuition for academic purposes.  It looks at ideas about best practice as well as the hopes and desires of those writing or reading the posts.  The idea is to gather a wider body of evidence regarding what people involved in History-related disciplines think of blogging and why they may give it a go.  The project will attempt to do the following:

  • A series of podcasted interviews with practitioners in archives, libraries and history departments who blog about History in one form or another.
  • A workshop (details to follow) about History blogging to be held in the Institute of Historical Research
  • An online survey asking for thoughts and ideas about blogging

A crucial part of the research for the Blogging for Historians project will derive from the survey.  This is live now and it would be brilliant if you could take a moment of your time to fill it in.  The survey is very short and should take less than five minutes to complete.  It is broken down into three sections:

  • Using blogs
  • Creating and managing blogs
  • Personal details

It is the first two sections that will provide the majority of interest and will hopefully raise some interesting thoughts, ideas and questions.  Essentially the survey asks why we create blogs, what do we hope to gain from them, and how do we access blog posts as a reader?  It also asks what do we gain by reading blogs?  From this survey it is hoped that we can further understand the processes and many reasons why blogs have become such a successful forum for writing, reading, and discussion over the last few years, and what impact or importance this might already and in the future have for the History discipline.  

I would be very grateful if you could fill in this survey.  It doesn’t matter if you own a blog or just visit them (or even if you don’t visit them – I would be interested in that too).  The survey is interested principally in History-related blogs, but this does not necessarily mean academic or professional.  There are a variety of History-related blogs out there, all of which have something useful and interesting to offer. 

Access to the survey can be found from this link:

Blogging for Historians Online Survey

It should take no longer than five minutes to complete and personal details will be kept confidential.  Statistics from the results of the survey alongside my thoughts and analysis will appear on this blog early in 2013. 

For more details about the Blogging for Historians project see its own blog here: Blogging for Historians Blog

The project is funded through the SMKE scheme.  For further details about this project see here: SMKE website

The historic web as a source: workshops for humanities and social sciences

by

After a highly successful first AADDA project workshop for historians, bookings are open for two more sessions: one for arts and humanities scholars (12 June) and one for social scientists (13 June).

Are you interested in the political discourse of the New Labour years ? Or perhaps the credit crunch of 2008 and its aftermath ? What, if anything, actually happened to public discourse after the death of Princess Diana ?

Could you imagine using a comprehensive archive of the UK web domain for the period 1996-2010, to answer these or myriad other questions ?  If so, these workshops could be for you. Come along, and help us shape the ways in which scholars will be enabled to use this remarkable new source, not yet available to scholars.

Full details of how to book are available on the AADDA project blog.

Exploring the Domain Dark Archive

by

Bookings are open now for the first of a series of day workshops on the Domain Dark Archive, a comprehensive archive of websites from the UK web domain for the period 1996 to 2010. Our new JISC-funded AADDA project (Analytical Access to the Domain Dark Archive) is a joint venture with the University of Cambridge and the British Library, who curate the archive on behalf of the JISC. A summary of the project is available on the project blog.

What on earth would one do with such an enormous and varied dataset ? That was the question I attempted to answer on the project blog; and the workshop for historians on May 24th is an opportunity collectively to imagine the questions historians might ask of the data. These workshops will provide the British Library with a crucial orientation in the process of designing the interface for the data, which is not yet publicly available. It is then a rare opportunity to shape the development of what may prove to be a transformative resource.

Details of the workshop for historians on May 24th in London, and of how to book a place may be found here.

Searching for condoms on ECCO

by


Perhaps it’s the library geek in me but I enjoy articles which describe the construction and improvement of online searching. One such piece is by Patrick Spedding about using the Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO). This collection is derived from the Eighteenth Century microfilm collection from Gale imprint Primary Source Microfilm and includes digitised facsimiles of 135,000 printed works – comprising more than 26 million pages.

Spedding outlines some of the problems with searching OCR scanned material – made worse by eighteenth-century printing methods. He briefly compares ECCO with JSTOR, Google Books and the Internet Archive. He follows this with the problems of searching ECCO using a case study researching condoms. Certainly he is well-placed to conduct such research being one of the editors of Eighteenth-Century British Erotica.

There are problems with spelling: condom, quondam, condon, condum and cundum are all used in literature. Publishers, conscious of censorship and obscenity, make searching even more problematic. They often used ellipsis, thus c—-m; alternative words such as armour, preservative, sheath; as well as the use of periphrasis – such as “the new machine” or “cloathing worn in merryland“. The search is further complicated by the town of Condom in France as well as (unfortunately) there being a bishop of Condom. By using various search strategies Spedding manages to reduce the initial search result of 536 results to 31. However these last results produced no correct use of condom – one result being a character name and others being OCR errors misreading condemn.

Using a different search strategy – looking for venereal disease and terms associated with the illness – he managed to discover some new references to condoms. He readily admits that working on sexual material will cause problems as outlined above however he acknowledges that even non-sexual commonplace phrases may cause difficulties. He argues that the search limitations are structural and can only be overcome by the publishers.

Notes: –

Patrick Spedding “The new machine”: Discovering the limits of Ecco, Eighteenth-century Studies, 44:4, 2011 p. 437-453

Spedding makes reference to the following articles which may be of interest:-

James May Accessing the inclusiveness of searches in the Online Burney Newspaper Collection. The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer, 23.2, 2009, p. 28-34 [scroll down to page number]

James May Some problems in ECCO (and ESTC). The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer, 23.1, 2009, p. 20-30 [scroll down to page number]

Nicholson Baker Double fold: libraries and the assault on paper. New York, Random House, 2001

Image: Giacomo Casanova tests his condom for holes by inflating it.

Digital forum – Processing the [Victorian] past

by

The August 2010 issue of the Journal of Victorian Culture has a digital forum in which the quantitative research of digital resources is discussed. There are three contributions which document both the production of such resources and their uses. Richard Deswarte focuses on the holdings of the History Data Service, which preserves and disseminates a collection of almost 700 mainly quantitative datasets, and considers what makes a useful quantitative data source. He discusses, among others, two particular population sites – Histpop – The Online Historical Population Reports Website and the Contemporary and Historical Census Collections (CHCC).

Alexis Weedon explores the production of resources suitable for quantitative research and then considers the use of geographical information (GIS) to argue for greater convergence between types of databases. Her examples include nineteenth-century literature and reading habits, such as the Nineteenth Century Short Title Catalogue and The Reading Experience Database.

Finally Michaela Mahlberg offers an introduction to corpus linguistics, exploring what corpus approaches can offer existing research methodologies in literary studies. Methods of gathering corpora through text searches of the internet are discussed, as are the special considerations when searching in nineteenth-century texts.

< Older Posts